Illustration by Yuko Shimizu

The “bamboo ceiling” refers to the complex and subtle web of discrimination Asian Americans face in advancing along the corporate ladder. Although Asian Americans have the highest rate of educational attainment among all demographics in the United States, and a high rate of employment, Asian Americans make up a comparatively small amount of business leaders. The model minority myth, which paints Asian Americans as silent, diligent and obedient workers actively prevents Asian Americans from becoming leaders. Ascend is an organization working to create and aid Asian American business leaders and therefore fight against existing stereotypes and eventually crack the bamboo ceiling.

Economist statistics

Ascend was established in 2005 and is the largest non-profit Pan-Asian organization for business professionals in America. Ascend seeks to aid and increase the amount of Asian business leaders while serving as a forum for Pan-Asian business communities.

Ascend’s membership is comprised mostly of professionals working in fields with high concentrations of Pan-Asians. These fields include but are not limited to: accounting, finance, technology, business and engineering.

Ascend runs 17 professional chapters and 34 student chapters in both the United States and Canada. The professional chapters are located within central cities on and around the East coast, West coast and central U.S. The student chapters are similarly geographically diverse; colleges with Ascend student chapters include UC Berkeley, UCLA, NYU, Drexel University and Penn State. Ascend offers annual scholarships for Asian American students that range from 1000-5000 USD. Additionally, Ascend offers mentorship programs, resume critiques and networking events specifically for college aged students.

Ascend seeks to uplift members of the Asian American corporate community through a variety of methods. One of which, is its annual national convention. The National convention includes talks by prominent Asian American leaders such as: Jenny Ming, chief executive officer of Charlotte Russe and Asa Kalama, chief creative director of Disney Imagineering. The convention also includes networking events and culminates in a career fair. The 2016 career fair included: HSBC, Union Bank, Wells Fargo, Hilton, Goldman Sachs and Johnson & Johnson. Additionally, Ascend recognizes excellence in pan-Asian leadership at the national conventions by giving out awards. One such award is the Deloitte’s Ascend leadership award. The internal recognition and celebration of individual achievement is especially important when Asian leadership is seldom recognized elsewhere. In this sense, Ascend provides tangible resources for the Asian American professional community to access.                               

In addition to introducing opportunities to younger Asian Americans entering the workforce, Ascend specifically addresses and readies Asian professionals who are veterans of their respective fields for executive leadership positions in their Executive Insight Series (EIS) and Pinnacle program. The goal of the two programs is decidedly specific – for the number of new Asian Americans each year on the fortune 500 corporate board to reflect the percentage of Asian Americans (6.8% in 2015). The EIS program seeks to do this by: real-life examples of leaders, learning specific leadership skills valued by corporate and addressing the myths of Asian leadership, although not elaborated on, one can infer that includes dealing with and being made aware of the repercussions of the model minority myth. The Pinnacle program is also associated with the Black Corporate Director’s Conference, Latino Corporate Director’s Association and Women Corporate Directors.

Relevant resources: